BY JAMIE FOSTER
Apparently the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary have decided that ‘Post-truth’ is the ‘Word of 2016’. They define post-truth as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ The media coverage of the release of the EFRA Committee Report on Animal Welfare in England: Domestic Pets illustrates this concept perfectly. If you would like to read the report you can find it here.
The UK media, encouraged by the RSPCA, reported that “MPs recommend stripping RSPCA of their powers” Even the RSPCA Public Affairs Team was running this line before they deleted the tweet they sent to me on the issue:
The reality is that the RSPCA has no special powers to prosecute. Every RSPCA prosecution ever brought has been a private prosecution. You or I are equally capable of bringing such a prosecution. It requires no special power. In addition RSPCA officers have no power to enter property or to seize animals, although in the past they often have done without any legal authority, and are slow to dispel the public misapprehension that they do have such powers. If they wish to do so lawfully they have to bring a police office or a local authority inspector with them.
The RSPCA have no powers to strip away. Since the inception of the charity in the early 1800s they have been seeking statutory recognition but they have never received it.
If you want more than the post-truth that the UK media is putting out on this subject you are in the right place here at Country Squire Magazine. Because the truth is that far from taking away powers the EFRA Committee has recommended that the RSPCA is given part of the statutory recognition that it has always sought. The Committee actually said that:
- We recommend that the Government look at amending current legislation to make the RSPCA a Specialist Reporting Authority.
In addition it said:
- The Committee believes that the RSPCA should retain the ability to bring private prosecutions where it reasonably believes that there is no statutory alternative and where such a prosecution would further its charitable objectives.
So no stripping away of powers, but a new recognition as a quasi-state investigating and reporting quango.
This, to some is a terrifying prospect. Over the years the RSPCA has not covered itself in glory. It is the only prosecution society in the UK ever to be held in contempt of court. The accounts of its mistreatment of the elderly and the vulnerable in the cause of kindness are easy to find across the internet and need no repetition here. For two years leading up to the publication of the Wooler Report, which the RSPCA commissioned as a result of public concerns over its role, they had no legally trained person working in their prosecutions department. This is highly concerning given that RSPCA is the second largest prosecutor in England after the CPS. Even more concerning is, that despite Stephen Wooler telling them that they ought to get a lawyer in the department to help them understand concepts like ‘the public interest’ it took another two years until they finally did.
I am not going to suggest that the RSPCA does no good whatsoever. Hard working charity workers on the ground like Tony Woodley put in long days which mainly involve helping people to help animals. Tony and I follow each other on Twitter and I would highly recommend him as an interesting Tweep. #FF @zimoza90 as the kids are fond of saying. I look forward to the day when the big wigs within the Society give him permission to make good on the invitation he made to me to spend a day with him seeing what he does. Given that their Vice President, Brian May, called me a ‘cruelty promoting caveman’ I am not holding my breath.
In reality the EFRA Committee got it about right. There is a real role for the RSPCA in helping to protect animals. If they want to perform it they need to clean up their act. The new CEO Jeremy Cooper has been making some encouraging moves. The problem is that the RSPCA ruling council is riven with animal rights activism. It still contains a woman who thinks comparing farming to the Holocaust is an acceptable way to conduct oneself.
The RSPCA was founded by a fox hunting Tory MP, Richard Martin, to help ensure cattle had a good life before they ended up on his plate. He warned against it becoming a ‘prosecution society’ but sadly the temptation to raise charitable donations from the publicity animal welfare cases attract proved too much. It is time the Society took a step back, It is time they showed the vegan rights extremists the door and returned to the roots that Richard Martin planted. If they can find a way to help promote animal welfare without bullying humans it will be a charity worthy of support. Time will tell. In the meantime don’t believe everything you hear on the news.